Libertarians in Turmoil

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The Ron Paul Revolution was back at the Libertarian Party’s national convention in Reno, Nevada, May 26–29. Paul was the closing speaker at Friday night’s private bash, where the Mises Caucus celebrated a razor-thin 67% supermajority that allowed them to replace the Party’s planned business agenda with one they had developed themselves. The following day Angela McArdle, chair of the LP in Los Angeles County, was elected National Chair with 70% of the vote. It was a changing of the guard in the Libertarian Party that normally would have heralded a sweeping mandate.

But many libertarians are fuming. Battle lines have been drawn, and accusations have been made on both sides. What happened?

Drama erupted early on the morning of the first day’s business, May 27, as chair Whitney Bilyeu made rulings based on bylaws, and those rulings were challenged by appeals that required a two-thirds majority. The audience was noisy and unruly at times. Everyone knew that a takeover was on the horizon. Liberty founder Bill Bradford would have loved the commotion. And he would have known all the background, all the major players, and all sides of the conflict. I freely admit that I don’t. I’m not sure anyone does, based on the conflicting rumors and stories I heard. What you are reading here is a personal reflection, not an investigative report.

Many libertarians are fuming. Battle lines have been drawn, and accusations have been made on both sides. What happened?

 

So here’s what I do know, or at least what I observed, having attended the convention, stood in on much of the deliberation, attended many of the social events, and met with many of the players.

First, everyone I met at the convention had the same goal: to bring liberty back to America. Everyone I spoke with in the halls outside the convention floor was calm, reasoned, and engaged. I’ve known many of the leaders in both camps for several years. I admire their sincerity and devotion to the cause of liberty. Some were deflated, but no one I encountered or observed was enraged. Convention organizer Jim Turney, national chair Whitney Bilyeu, and executive director Tyler Harris were particularly professional through it all. There were fiery speeches, inspiring speeches, hopeful speeches, and conciliatory speeches, and the ones I heard seemed to have the same message: reach out, bridge gaps, support freedom.

The first three hours of the convention were spent just deciding whose votes would count and how to count them. The impending coup would require an appeal and a supermajority, so the question of who could vote was super important. Contributing to the confusion was the difficulty hearing and seeing the proceedings. The sound system was muffled, side conversations were constantly buzzing, and the font on the overhead screen was so small that notes and results were impossible to read.

I knew something was up when a delegate from Idaho asked, during the first counting of the delegates, “Madam Chairwoman, if there is a difference in numbers, which chair from our state will you recognize?” Which chair will you recognize? Shouldn’t there be only one per state?

Everyone I met at the convention had the same goal: to bring liberty back to America.

 

Actually, several states had fielded two separate groups, one the mainstream state organization and the other the Mises Caucus affiliate, including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and apparently Idaho. It is up to the national chair and the credentialing committee to decide which group to recognize at the convention, and that led to Idaho’s question. It also led to an understandable sense of disenfranchisement from those who represented the longstanding state organizations. It was lunchtime before any real business could get started.

An organized coup has been fomenting for about four years. The Mises Caucus, disillusioned by the nomination of former state governors Gary Johnson and William Weld as the standard bearers in 2016, and led largely by Michael Heise, has been working to bring the Libertarian Party back to what might be called “first principles” of the Ron Paul Revolution on such issues as free speech and free assembly. The MC have gone to every state and many libertarian gatherings, helping with recruitment and building up a following among local libertarians. The disgruntlement that began with the 2016 presidential ticket intensified with acquiescence to the pandemic mandates expressed by many of the Party’s outgoing administration and their supporters.

That afternoon the big vote happened. An appeal was brought to the floor to switch from the official business agenda, prepared by the existing party leadership, to a different one prepared by the Mises Caucus. By the tiniest of margins, basically one or two of the 1,000 votes cast, the MC appeal held and their agenda became the official business and platform of the convention. All the preparation of the organizing committee, except for the speakers they had selected, was now moot.

Why are so many so upset with this? Criticism of the Mises Caucus seems focused on one major accusation: that they are bigots, white supremacists, and brownshirts. The claim is based on their recommendation to remove the anti-bigotry plank from the Libertarian platform. But there’s a difference between supporting the right to say bigoted things and being a bigot oneself. I don’t take drugs, but I defend the right of others to do so. No speech should be outlawed, not even hateful speech. The remark attributed to Voltaire, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” should be a basic tenet of libertarianism. At the same time, actions do have consequences. Bigoted actions that break the law should be prosecuted. Bigoted people can and should be shunned and avoided. A person’s right to speak does not give him or her a right to speak at someone else’s private event. So there are caveats based on privacy and choice, even as we extend and acknowledge the inalienable rights of others. The mere fact that they want to remove the anti-bigotry plank does not make them bigots.

Which chair will you recognize? Shouldn’t there be only one per state?

 

Friday night I happened to attend the MC cocktail bash. I was not choosing sides; I also attended the bash sponsored by the organizing committee the night before. Maj Toure of Black Guns Matter and black British rapper Zuby were among the featured — and honored — speakers. Would these two have lent their voices to a white supremacist gathering? Would white supremacists have invited them?

Toure, a strong new libertarian voice and founder of Black Guns Matter, gave a powerful speech, congratulating the celebrants for their progress, yet taunting them too. “You won’t follow through,” he postured, and then ended his good-natured taunting with the challenge: “Prove me wrong.” Soon the audience was saying it with him. He urged the caucus to mend fences with the faction they had defeated that day. “We’re all on the same side here. Don’t let the party be split.” He also urged them to reach out more to urban America with their message of liberty: “They need this message.” Toure’s speech was inspiring and optimistic.

Black British rapper Zuby, born in Britain to Nigerian parents and raised in the Middle East, talked about the oppression he observed while growing up there. He praised America’s founding principles and opined, “Americans don’t always appreciate what they have because they’ve always had it.”

Ron Paul was frail of body as he made his way to the stage, but he was quick of mind, delivering a powerful and rousing speech reminiscent of his 1988 bid for the presidency. It ignited numerous ovations and spontaneous chants of Paul’s chief project, “End the Fed!” Clearly he continues to be a beloved hero of the libertarian movement — or at least of this faction of the libertarian movement.

“You won’t follow through,” Toure postured, and then ended his good-natured taunting with the challenge: “Prove me wrong.”

 

It was especially heartening to see so many young people at the event supporting him. As he looked out at the vast standing-room audience, many of whom were not even born when he ran for president, Paul told them about speaking at college libertarian clubs in the 1980s where maybe 15 people would show up. “Look at you now!” he proclaimed. “The Revolution is alive and well! You can’t stop ideas. Ideas spread!” And then, somberly, he realized, “We have to stop the bad ideas.”

Paul encouraged the celebrants to “have fun talking about [their victory that day] and spreading the message,” but he warned, “A crash is coming, and the Fed can’t fix this now . . . a crackup boom is coming that will cause people to flee from the dollar and into stuff.”

Comedian and podcaster Dave Smith presented a similar message. “The time is now — Ron Paul libertarians are back!” he proclaimed. Peppering his serious talk with good humor, he asserted that the libertarians within the Mises Caucus got it right — exposing the truth about the Covid response from the beginning and predicting the rampant inflation that seems to have caught the media and the Congress by feigned surprise. Because of those successful analyses, he said, libertarians should be trusted now. He encouraged the audience to spread the message with a reminder that “Tom Paine changed the world with a pamphlet.”

And what of the new administration? By all accounts (the ones I’ve heard) Angela McArdle is smart, philosophically sound, and relentless in her defense of liberty. She’s a great organizer, as evidenced by her tireless campaigning across the country over the past two years, reaching out, giving speeches, recruiting new members, and helping candidates engaged in local elections. And she cares about individuals. During the pandemic lockdowns in California, Angela gave pro bono legal help to restaurateurs and small business owners who were determined to keep their places open and their staff employed, despite the governor’s draconian mandates.

Ron Paul told the audience about speaking at college libertarian clubs in the 1980s where maybe 15 people would show up. “Look at you now!” he proclaimed.

 

In any other election, her win on the first ballot with 70% of the vote would have seemed like an overwhelming landslide of support. But because there was so much controversy over the seating (some have said stealing) of delegates, she has an uphill climb.

I’m also impressed with Spike Cohen and his “You Are the Power” organization. I’ve watched Spike mature over the past four years from a basement podcaster who sometimes didn’t bother to wear a shirt to a fiery speaker who represents the libertarian message well. In his rousing speech while the ballots were being counted, he made an impassioned plea for conciliation:

People don’t want to see in-fighting. They want to see action. Look for people who have one issue you agree with and work with them on that one issue. . . . Let your community see libertarians as people who work together. . . We are in our communities to show them a better way. . . . Don ’t look for an individual to save us. Freedom doesn’t trickle down from the White House.

I like Spike’s “one issue” approach. It focuses on the listener’s interest and the direction a discussion naturally takes. This creates a “readiness to learn” that is essential to teaching, and is more likely to lead to broad, nonthreatening conversations with neighbors and friends.

As Maj Toure and others suggested, now is the time for burying animosity and finding common ground — the time for building bridges. Every organization needs a visionary partner and a practical partner to make its vision happen. I see the MC faction as the visionaries, the purists who want a world in which absolute freedom and choice abound. And that’s great. But as Justin Amash said in his convention speech, the point of a political party is to win elections. That requires practicality and organization. It requires accepting that we aren’t going to agree on everything. It requires human cooperation, as von Mises wrote in his book Liberalism.

The outgoing administration of the Libertarian Party consists of good, hardworking people, people of integrity who have a more practical approach to spreading liberty and gaining traction among citizens who don’t yet understand the marketplace of goods or the marketplace of ideas. There is a place for both the visionary and the pragmatist in the Libertarian Party. We need human collaboration, not infighting. Let’s stop fighting one another and remember — the enemy is out there, not in here.

2 Comments

  1. Gregory Nunn

    My wife and I watch several outdoor survival shows, man (person) verses nature sort of things.
    Invariably, contestants, year after year, episode after episode, show their skills at doing things.
    My favorite is building fish traps.
    They will consume time and energy, a lot of time and a lot of energy, both telling us all about the wonderful traps they build and what skilled outdoorsmen they are by being able to build said traps.
    Yet episode after episode, season after season, they catch no fish.
    Perhaps they should, gee, I dunno, actually practice catching fish!
    Enough of the trap building skills already.
    Can you catch a damn fish or can’t you?
    So with the LP in mind, all we hear and see, year after year, cycle after cycle, decade after decade, is talk about doing all of the things they are going to do.
    From good things to idiotic “abolish the Fed” sorts of drivel.
    Lots and lots of talk.
    Yet, to date, where is the congressman, senator, governor, president, or dog catcher for that matter, who ran as a libertarian, got elected as a libertarian, and performed their job in a libertarian fashion?
    (Insert cricket noise here).
    If and when (not likely in either case) the LP figures out that winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing, and that change requires you to either (a), be in charge, or (b), to live for a Millennium while society changes around you by Darwinism, that getting into office is step 1.
    Step 2 is a lot of other libertarians doing the same. Majority and that sort of thing, you know.
    Step 3 is effecting change through the power of having a majority and being in charge.
    All I am seeing is fish trap construction. Very, very poor fish traps.
    And the Pauls, by the way, are both Republicans.

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